New Questions and Answers

Q. Hello there. Is it okay to use a comma after Anderson? “This is disgusting,” said Anderson, “The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” According to the models you provide, you seem to prefer a period rather than a comma, but is the comma definitely wrong?

A. Yes, the comma is definitely wrong. The test is to write the sentence without “said Anderson” and see whether a comma works: “This is disgusting, The man I hired to mow the lawn has missed a few spots.” You can see that you need a period.

Q. All right then! I’m steadfastly attempting to adopt the “one space after concluding punctuation” rule. It’s not an easy task for a retired English teacher in his late sixties—one who preached the old rule to legions of eager-eyed scholars. Are there any retraining suggestions that assist the elder learner? I’m tired of correcting my continual errors. I am diligently trying, though.

A. Good for you! The easiest way might be for you to leave the mistakes in place until the document is finished, then use the Find and Replace feature to eliminate all double spaces. In the Find box, type two spaces, and in the Replace With box, type one space. Hit Replace All—and you’re done. (And eventually, when your word processor regularly tells you that the search item was not found, celebrate!)

Q. We often refer to Chesapeake Bay as “the bay” on second mention (e.g., Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest estuaries in the world; we often visit the bay to conduct trawl surveys). My question is whether it is correct.

A. Chicago style lowercases “the bay” as you do, but uppercasing it is not incorrect, and you are likely to see it capped in various publications.

Q. Is it a grave error that I wrote “If I’d had time, alone, with my mother’s body, I might have caressed her face” in lieu of “If I’d had time alone with my mother’s body”? I understand that I felt a pause around the word alone and therefore decided to use the commas. I also realize that the pause doesn’t mean that a comma is necessary. Using the commas around alone seemed to underscore the gravity of the situation, the aloneness of the situation. Will an editor be inclined to throw away my manuscript because of a small error like this?

A. A wayward comma is rarely a “grave error.” A good editor will ask you to clarify your intended meaning and then work with you to get the punctuation right.

Q. When pointing to a particular rule within a set of rules, would you capitalize rule? I.e., Federal Rules of Evidence, rule 103, or Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 103? Thank you.

A. Chicago style lowercases generic usages like “rule 103,” but such words are routinely capped in other style manuals, and it’s not wrong to cap them.

Q. With reference to the NYPD crime data collection system, should I write COMPSTAT, CompStat, Compstat, or CompSTAT? All four seem to be used in journals.

A. If professional journals use all these forms, then you probably can’t get into much trouble just picking one. But to make a more informed decision, look online to see how it is used by authoritative sources. With a single Google search you can see from the results page that the NYPD itself uses CompStat, as do Wikipedia, the University of Maryland, and the New York City government. Good enough?

Q. There is much inconsistency regarding the capitalization of the term evangelical used as an adjective or noun. What do you advise?

A. We advise consistency, but that sometimes involves consistently using different treatments in different contexts. Lowercase as a rule, reserving caps for proper nouns or adjectives when referring to a particular denomination or congregation: the Evangelical Church embraces that tenet. I go to First Evangelical; its mission is evangelical in nature.

Q. I have a manuscript in which the author did not use the proper formatting for endnotes. He manually used superscript numbering in the main document and the same for the endnotes. I am trying to copy/paste those endnotes with the proper formatting, using Chicago style, 15th edition, but it won’t format the endnote with a regular number (i.e., 1.), but automatically superscripts the number. Is there a way to fix this issue? I even tried starting a new document, but it still formats the endnote number wrong.

A. The formatting used by Microsoft Word is not wrong; it’s just not Chicago style. Unless you are required to use Chicago style, there’s no point in fighting it. If you must change it, here’s how: Go into the notes pane and change the first note number to make it look the way you want it (that is, remove the superscript; add a period). Carefully highlight the number and the period with your cursor and copy them. Open the Find and Replace box. To find endnote numbers, type ^e into the Find box (type the ^ character by typing Shift-6; if you are working with footnotes, type ^f to find footnote numbers). Type ^c into the Replace With box (^c represents whatever you copied most recently). Replace All. All the note numbers should now look like the first one. (The first note might end up with two periods, in which case delete one.) Good luck!

Q. I’m wondering if there are other considerations for the order of author names on a third-edition book. The book is a high school textbook, and the first and second editions were written by a team of two authors (the same two for both editions). Both original authors are now retired, and the third edition is being written by a new author. All three will be listed on the new edition, since 60–70 percent of the new book is from previous editions. Would we treat the three authors as equivalent and still use alphabetical order? Or does the author of the current edition have some precedence and so get listed first?

A. Authors are normally listed according to importance, not alphabetically, and the order of the authors is best decided by the authors. If the authors agree to equal status, use alphabetical order.

Q. When working with references in different languages when the main text is in English, do you indicate editors, translators, and so forth in English or in the language the book was written in (e.g., German)?

A. It’s best if everything is in English, but if that requires guessing at the translation of words in an unfamiliar language, it’s better to leave the citation as is.

Q. What does The Chicago Manual of Style recommend for the usage of make vs. makes?

A. We recommend using one or the other.

November Q&A

Q. Is it grammatically correct to say that “a nation or a society built a barrier or a wall”? Is it implied that we are talking about the citizens doing the building?

A. Yes and yes. The grammar is fine, and in English it’s normal to say or write expressions that are not meant to be taken literally. We sit on a jury. We stand on a principle. The United States sent a rocket to the moon. The Chinese built the Great Wall. (And incidentally, grammar isn’t the issue. “Its hairline breathed in desks” has perfect grammar, as does your sentence. The question is one of idiom rather than grammar.)

Q. Dear Sir or Madam: At 2.66 you say “To point out repetition.” And at 2.67 you talk about “inadvertent repetition.” I want to know what the repetition is like. In Japan, we don’t usually talk about repetition as a problem of publishing.

A. In English, repetition is sometimes useful for emphasis, but it can become a problem when a sentence or passage is repeated accidentally, when a point or argument is made more often than necessary, or when a word or phrase is used so often that it becomes distracting or tiresome. In these cases, we advise editing.

Q. How does one punctuate dialogue in which one character interrupts another in the middle of a word? The writer whose work I’m editing has used a hyphen followed by an ellipsis, which looks awful to me: “I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an expe- . . .”

A. The conventional punctuation is a dash: “I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an expe—”

Q. I’ve read the sections on prefixes and on parentheses with other punctuation, and would be glad if you would weigh in on the following type of structure: (pre)defined or (pre-)defined; (sub)set or (sub-)set. I think it would be reasonable to rule that solid prefixes in parentheses remain solid, and hyphenated prefixes retain their hyphenation. I would generally explain such compact forms before proceeding to use them. Or, if they occur only occasionally, simply expand them. What do you think?

A. Chicago style closes up prefixes whenever possible, and we discourage constructions like (sub)set, which are at worst meaningless and at best ambiguous. “Set or subset” is clearer. Writers who distinguish “defined” from “predefined” should make sure the difference isn’t just of the “sliced/presliced bread” type.

Q. Hello! I’m a freelance editor, and I’m editing a manuscript with more than 300 then words (which the publisher wants left in), mainly used as coordinating conjunctions. Here is an example: He deflated then chuckled. I suggested this to the director: He deflated, then chuckled. Her response: “I don’t see two independent clauses in either of those, so I wouldn’t consider then to be used as a coordinating conjunction. I would also consider the comma to be optional.” Is it okay to leave out the comma when then joins a compound predicate? Am I overboard on this?

A. It sounds like this manuscript is a novel or creative nonfiction, and your director is afraid you will edit out its style or voice. Perhaps she fears, with reason, that technical correctness would ruin the piece of writing. She is confusing things, however, by trying to justify the constructions grammatically instead of simply saying “This is the style we want; don’t mess with it.” It’s conventional to put either a comma or and before then when it’s used as an adverb (He deflated, then chuckled; he deflated and then chuckled), but rather than argue over grammar, it would be better to simply confirm that the more casual style is needed, regardless of technical correctness. There are various kinds of writing where cleaving to the CMOS rules would suck out all the life and character. There’s no shame in avoiding that.

Q. The “Life Style” section of a newspaper is referred to in dialogue. The dialogue is in double quotations. Should the name of the newspaper section also have a set of double quotation marks? I searched for an answer or a reliable example and could find none.

A. Chicago style leaves the titles of newspaper sections unquoted, which solves your problem. But in general, use single quotes for a quote within a quote. CMOS 13.28, 14.202, and 14.205 have the examples you’re looking for.

Q. The use of historic with landmarks, buildings, and districts is common. I’m confused by this when the entity is not a site where something historically important occurred, but is rather just old. Examples: historic Grand Canyon village, historic landmark status, National Register of Historic Places.

A. A dictionary is a great place to check a word meaning. According to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, the word historic does sometimes mean “just old” (“dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts>”).

Q. In the example at CMOS 13.51 (Ellipses with periods), why is it a period at the end instead of “. . . .”? It’s not the end of the sentence in the original quote, and the period seems to suggest there is nothing further in that sentence with the single period.

A. Although it might be logical to put an ellipsis at the end, that’s not the convention. Quotations are nearly always, by their very nature, excerpted from a longer sentence, paragraph, or document. There’s no need to indicate that with special punctuation. Please see CMOS 13.50 (When not to use ellipsis points): “Ellipsis points are normally not used (1) before the first word of a quotation, even if the beginning of the original sentence has been omitted; or (2) after the last word of a quotation, even if the end of the original sentence has been omitted, unless the sentence as quoted is deliberately incomplete.”

Q. My copyeditor has changed “as described below” to “as described following” and has changed “as noted above” to “as noted before.” Is my usage correct, or at least acceptable? I have never seen the usage the copyeditor has suggested. Is this usage becoming a trend, and what does CMOS think about it? Thank you.

A. Your usage is correct and acceptable; your editor’s changes are awkward and unidiomatic. Some overeager editors remove directions like above and below in the fear that once the text in question is typeset it might end up directly across on a facing page or at the top of a page overleaf, in which case the terms above and below will not be literally true. If your pointers refer to illustrations (whose positioning is beyond your control), such precautions are reasonable. Otherwise, it’s silly to think that readers don’t understand that above means “before” and below means “after.” One way to negotiate this might be to consider whether phrases like “as described below” or “as noted above” are truly needed. They suggest a writer who doesn’t trust his readers to keep reading or remember what they’ve read.

Q. Hello style gurus—I’m editing a historical monograph. The author and I are trying to figure out if he should bracket the first letter of quotations if he changes capitalization. For example, “[T]he judge said” versus “the judge said.” I’ve looked at Chicago 13.16, but we’re not sure if that applies in a historical monograph. How can you tell if it’s obligatory or not? Thanks so much!

A. The brackets are obligatory only if the capitalization is part of the subject under discussion, which is rare outside of legal or textual criticism documents. Please read further at CMOS 13.13–16.

Q. I have seen some texts using the pronoun her to refer to a business: “Apple’s profit was high due to her impressive product designs.” I would like to learn when I should use the feminine pronoun and when I should avoid it.

A. Use the feminine pronoun when referring to a female person or animal. Avoid using it to refer to a business, a ship, or any nonliving entity—especially in the presence of a female person.